Acknowledgement of Intelligence

There was some observation from education (probably in context to college education) that goes something like education is an industry where the consumer tries to get the least value from the investment.   Undoubtedly spoken by a teacher who observes that student laziness avoids enjoying the benefit of the education they are paying for.

I recall my share of laziness as a college student.  Even at the time I realized I was short-changing my education by rushing out a term paper that I should have started earlier.

But the sentiment may be putting too much blame on the student.  The teachers put in their time in preparing and delivering instruction and in evaluating exams.  However, even when that happens, they may be falling short of what I wanted to pay for.

Tying back to my previous post, a student wants his intelligence acknowledged by the teacher.  To be valuable, the teacher has to earn the student’s respect.  What students really want is acknowledge of intelligence by someone the student to be considered to be highly intelligent.   I can think of only a handful of teachers that I had that a huge respect for their intelligence that motivated me to go all out to get their acknowledgement.

It is kind of like getting a letter of recommendation for a job opening.  It is far more valuable to get that letter from the most recognized and respected person.  The same goes for earning the grade from a teacher.  I worked harder to get even a passing grade from a very intelligent teacher than I did to get a high grade from a teacher I had less respect for.  

There is less motivation to get a grade for the sake of getting a grade than there is to get a grade directly from someone who is impressive.

The lack of motivations we sometimes complain about may have a component of the students not being very impressed with their teachers.   I can see why a student may not be motivated to try to impress someone that the student doesn’t find impressive.  There is even less motivation when the evaluation is done through standardized tests where the instructor does even see the work but only sees the final score.   Even if the teacher is respected, he does not actually see the product of the student.  A passing grade, or even the top grade, does not deliver to the student the sought acknowledgement of his intelligence.

As I mentioned earlier, teaching is a low productivity field.  The student’s perceived value of education is proportional to how highly regarded the teacher is and how much that teacher personally acknowledges the student’s intelligence or ability.

In colleges today, and especially at the undergraduate level, the classes are taught by adjunct professors or teaching assistants who have not yet earned their advanced degree.  Any course work is likely to be graded by some grading assistant who likely has even less impressive accomplishments — the course work doesn’t even reach the teacher’s attention.

I can see this being very discouraging.  Getting a grade from a grading assistant is not really worth the effort.  Its only meaning is to gain more credits toward the requirements.

Today it is popular to talk about the problems of higher education being too expensive and the value of the degrees being too low.  In an attempt to control costs, classes are increasingly taught by adjunct professors or graduate students.  Full professors who can spend time to further develop their reputation spend very little time with students and that time is more likely to lecture to the student then ever see the student’s work.   The student doesn’t have access to the teacher whose recognition the student desires most.

I can see how a student would be less motivated in this case.  I can see it being even more of a problem when the student is paying higher tuition an still only getting access to teaching and grading assistants who at best are only barely superior to the student.

The ideal is getting that right to say one has studied under someone who the student highly respects, and that someone recognizes that student as meeting his standards.  That ideal is increasingly elusive.


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